Recently, the New Yorker held it’s inaugural conference, “2012: Stories From the Near Future”. While many of the speakers were very interesting, there is one that stood out in my opinion. The talk was given by Jonathan Haidt, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Happiness Hypothesis.
Dr Haidt’s talk was on a new model of human morality and how it relates to political persuasion. You can view the video by clicking this link. You can also download it as a podcast via iTunes; simply search “New Yorker Conference”. Or, if you prefer, you can read about the Moral Foundations Theory at this link.
His model identifies five values, or foundations for human morality: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. What is interesting about this model is that people who identify themselves as liberal mostly value the first two foundations, harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. In other words, liberals believe that harming no one and treating everyone fairly is pretty much the extent of behaving morally. Conservatives, on the other hand, value the other three foundations just as much as harm and fairness.
The fun part is that anyone can take the surveys he used in his research. The main result from mine is in the picture above. As should come as no surprise to anyone, I value the ‘liberal’ foundations more than the average survey taker, and the ‘conservative’ foundations less than the average. In fact, I have an inherent distrust for authority and disdain for ingroup loyalty. I believe the latter inevitably leads to outgroup enmity and even hostility so it came as no surprise that I scored the lowest on this foundation. But I recognize that ingroup loyalty is an evolved part of human behavior and as such is impossible to eliminate from our species. The way to overcome this obstacle is to consider every person as part of one’s ingroup. In such a scenario, ingroup loyalty would be indistinguishable from universal fairness, the foundation on which I scored the highest.